Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Notebook: A Gift Of History

My ancestors on my husbands side of the family have been poking me for quite some time. Their voice is loud and clear. It's time to share their story. And so we begin..

My husband has witnessed first hand my obsession with genealogy and my excitement as I have connected with new found relatives over the years. So I guess that I shouldn't have been surprised when he asked me one day, when was I going to find someone on his side of the family? I chuckled as I realized that he was interested in his ancestors after all..I took that as my cue to start digging into his past. His request was to find out something about his paternal grandfather who he knew absolutely nothing about.

I'll begin with my husband's father, Charles Emmit McKinney. He was an interesting individual, to say the least. Although I had known my father-in-law for years. I never asked him about his family. All I knew is that he was raised by his maternal grandmother, Edith Elizabeth FLEMING-PRATER, whom he affectionately called "Mom" and her husband Albert Thomas PRATER.

Charles Emmet McKinney
One day when he came to visit. I began to question him on his family. He told me that they were all from Tennessee and had migrated to Cincinnati, Ohio. He told me bits and pieces about his family. Most of which my husband didn't even know. I was amazed!  I was even more surprised when a few days later my husband came home with a notebook that his father instructed him to give to me. I opened it and there it was. He had written his family history, beginning with his great grandmother. There were Birth and death dates, Stories, pictures. My father-in Law passed away not long after this. How glad I am that we have this history to share. Glad that I was moved on that day to ask him the questions. What he left, a notebook written in his handwriting are puzzle pieces to the past. If I had of never asked him, I probably would not have known.

Charles was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on May 18, 1940 to Charles William McKinney and Mary Louise Fleming. His parents; who married as young teenagers, didn't stay together long. He described his parents as people who loved to party. His grandmother disapproving of this, took young Charles and moved to Minneapolis, Mn in the 1940's. Charles loved to sing and was a popular teen singer around Minneapolis in the 1950's. He was a member of  two bands. The five Velvetones and Little Charles  And The Big M's.

Now we come to Charles' father. Charles William Mckinney. I call him the mystery man. I don't have any pictures of him. What I know about him is written on one page, contained in the notebook that my father-in law wrote. He is describes his father as a man small in stature that liked to sing and wanted to be a prize fighter. He looked like he was mixed, part negro and Asian with curly hair. Charles William was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in about 1920. His mother was a light skinned woman known only as Mrs. Hunt. He had a sister named Christine and a brother named J.D. Charles is listed in the1940 census in Cincinnati,Ohio living with his wife Mary Louise and her parents.

What ever happened to Charles W. Mckinney? the answer to that question remains to be found. I am sure that he is out there somewhere, along with a whole family waiting to be found. In the meantime, I will continue to put this puzzle together..tracing the ancestors one leaf at a time.



© 2013 Denise Muhammad

Gullah Geechee: Shouldn't Our History Be preserved?

                                                                                                                                                                     This morning my sister shared a story with me on Facebook. It definitely caught my attention, and
she knew that it would. This article really hit home with me because Gullah Geechee is part of my heritage. My great Grandmother Frances (Fannie) WILLIAMS was of this culture. Her family, originally from New Orleans, migrated to Mississippi and later settled in Arkansas where my Grandfather, Ollie Taylor was born.

The article talks about this small community in Georgia, called  Sapelo Island. It is one of the earliest freed slave settlements. Many of the descendants of  slaves still live there today. The Gullah Geechee people are being forced to sell because of rising property taxes. The owners aren’t giving up without a fight, they are making their story known. No, my family is not from Georgia..that I know of. I cannot remain silent. I feel that I must share this and speak up.

I cannot believe that this is happening! all because of taxes?..really? a whole 50 people on the island. What exactly are they being taxed for? why can't this land be preserved. I think that it should be declared a national historic landmark. It's more than just a place. It's about a culture, a way of life. The history of a people that would be destroyed if this land is sold.  If dozens of plantation homes, civil war lands, buildings are declared historic why shouldn't this be?

Shouldn't our history be preserved?

Okay, I'm done ranting. Just had to get it out. I hope that others will stand and lift their voice. Someone has to help share the story.

If you don't stand for something. You will fall for anything.

Sapelo island historic-slave community Faces Tax Rise


Monday, October 14, 2013

The Pain Of Genealogy

My father,with my sister and brother-about 1968
After my recent post, I spoke with my sister over the phone. We talked about many things, mainly about our parents, our history and the mystery of  Grandpa Ollie's name, TAYLOR. Which isn't really his name. My sisters are amazing, the encouragement that I get from them to continue blogging and search for our family's past is awesome! They are all my team. Our conversation made me realize something that I never thought of before. That tracing our Genealogy brings pain. I didn't realize that as much as we want to know about our father's past, that it would hurt so many to dig into it?. Pain is definitely the gift that no one wants. 
I think that sometimes the pain of remembering the past is just to difficult for some, especially the elders. They just don't want to talk. They will tell you in a heartbeat that they don't know anything. Short and to the point! like, don't ask me, I don't really want to talk about it. I have heard it so many times before. I was recently asked, "Why in the world would you want to look up dead people? " Yes, that bothered me. However, It does not stop me. I realize that I am supposed to tell their stories.
If you can get them to talk, good for you! Fortunately I was blessed with a grandmother that wanted to share her history and always pushed me to find out more about our ancestors. She once told me about a cousin that had started researching the family and uncovered some big family secret and stopped researching. We never did find out what that secret was. They come from a different generation, when children were seen and not heard. Grandma used to say that you just didn't ask questions back in those days. Oh, if only I would've of been a fly on the wall!
I have learned that there is a method to asking questions, always be respectful and don't push. They talk when they are ready. Be patient. Although digging into our past can sometimes be very painful and feelings and emotions surface that we thought we buried deep in us long ago..The pain becomes a real and necessary process on the journey to finding who we are and where we come from, the struggles our ancestors endured and the sacrifices they made.
The Pain of Genealogy, it's all part of the process as we follow the footsteps of our ancestors. Let go and follow the spirit! 


© 2013 Denise Muhammad

New African American Blogs On The Rise!

I am a member of the new Facebook Group: African American Genealogy & Slave Ancestry Research. A wonderful community of researchers that are inspiring and encouraging one another, working together to crash down brick walls and find ancestors. Since this group started..just weeks ago, There has been a surge of new African American Blogs. 

I would like to introduce these new bloggers, and a few old. Please take a look, leave a word or two..You may even find that you have an ancestor in common.

They Came From Virginia

Echoes of My Nola Past

NoTe's To MySelf...

Claiming Kin

Our Georgia Roots

Our Alabama Roots

Conversations With My Ancestors

Georgia Black Crackers

In Honor Of My Ancestors 

My Elusive Kin

Low Country Africana

Spence-Lowry Family

Taneya's Genealogy Blog

The Family Griot

Tracing Their Footsteps

All Roads Lead To California

Ike Ivery Family

Terrence Garnett's Family Research

Finding Eliza

Connected By Blood

Caddo Trees

Mississippi Ancestors 

A Journey To The Past 

Interlocked and Interwoven 

Cecelia's Dig 

Barnes Smith Family History 

Middlebrooks Of Meriwether 

A Home In Missouri 

The Book Of Bannarn 

Mysteries of My Ancestors 

My True Roots
Back Porch Reminiscing 

Arterberry-King-Pinkney-Ritchardson Genealogy Page 

Moon-Jackson Army
Pieces Of Me 

Between The Gate Posts 

J-Macs Journey 

Daniels Is My Name 


The Taliaferro Project


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Journey To Find My Father...I thought I Knew My Name

My father, Jesse Carl Taylor w/ my sister Lisa and brother Tony. 1965
Today, while searching for my ancestors...much to my surprise, it was my father who kept nudging me. As I ignored him, wanting to stay focused on a certain ancestor. It became clear to me that it was time to blog about him and share his story. As I've said before, the search for my father has been a life long journey. I've always wondered what happened to him. Where he was, what was his heritage, and how do I find him?  no one seemed to have the answers....

Growing up my mother taught us to be proud of who we are, which included being proud of our name. We were the PRYOR'S. Growing up in a small community, I had eyes all around me. EVERYONE knew my mother. Those were the days when you got checked by the other mothers in the neighborhood if you were caught doing wrong..and they had no problem at all letting your mother know!

I remember my father, playing with us as children. He always wore a crisp white T-shirt and Khaki pants. His hair was jet Black, thick and wavy with a hint of a curl, much like mine. He was a truck driver for Allied Van Lines for years and drove all over the country. He liked to cook and could fix anything. Even though he made his home in Minneapolis, MN where he met and married my mother in the 60's, home for him was Kansas City, Missouri. His family who had migrated from Arkansas lived in Cape Girardeau and New Haven, Mo.

The decision to look for him was easy. I had been researching the history of my family for years and had found a ton of relatives. So I thought, why shouldn't I be able to locate my father?..piece of cake,..Right? well, it wasn't that simple. After hours of questioning my mother, I found that my father had two Surnames. Actually two names all together; first, middle and last. Talk about confusing!  Further research revealed that when his mother married his step father, Paul Pryor. My father took on his surname, although he was never legally adopted. Switching his first and middle name around, he was enrolled in school under the name, Carl Jesse Pryor. He enlisted in the army, and fought in world War II under that name. His military record shows his birth date as 1927. This confirmed the story that my mother told me. That he joined the Army at 15 after lying about his age. He was actually born in 1930. I found it odd that even though my grandmother said his birth name was VALRIE Jesse Taylor. His birth record lists him as Jesse Carl Taylor. How absolutely confusing is that!!!

While the search for my father has been challenging, frustrating at times and very exiting. Especially discovering my Creole ancestry! It has also been painful and disappointing. I never did find my father. By the time I found him, He had passed away five years earlier. What a huge disappointment that was! Little did I know that he had started using his given name, Jesse TAYLOR. His obituary lists him as Jesse Carl TAYLOR-PRYOR..I guess he used both names.

So, although my family carries the name PRYOR. The name that my mother always thought we should be so proud of. It is NOT my name. What's even more surprising..I was recently told by my aunts and uncles, that neither is TAYLOR!..That's a topic for another blog post.

© 2013 Denise Muhammad

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Searching For Sarah and Hearing her Whisper

Last night I spent the evening..more like half the night, searching for Sarah. I woke up in the middle of the night, and this morning with Sarah on my mind. I see her, standing there among the trees. As I searched endless records, getting a bit frustrated, She kept whispering to me, saying "Here I am Denise, I'm right here in front of you, you're just not seeing me". In case your wondering..No, I'm not crazy!  when you start the hunt for your ancestors, believe me, they talk to you. If your a Genealogist then you understand. Thanks to Miss Luckie Daniels, and her push in the right direction. I am learning this more and more. And hearing Sarah's whispers.

As I looked though online resources. I came across a death record listing for a SARAH LEE. Now,. one may think that this must be her. After all, her owners surname was LEE, and we know that some of her siblings changed their name to LEE after slavery ended. The locations matched, my Sarah was from Pittsylvania County also. The year of birth matched. My Sarah was born about 1840. The only thing that was off was the year. Sarah LEE died in July 1870.

Could this be my Sarah?  well, even though I have seen this record added to many family trees of my relatives for Sarah Doyle. I am skeptical. How could this be her? Aunt Lizzie, (Sarah's Daughter) who my grandmother adored and talked about continuously was born in November of 1870. Sarah also had another child, Mattie in born in 1879. Sarah Doyle raised her grandchildren, Bertia and Samuel Anderson on the Lee farm after slavery ended. Knowing that cousin Bertia was born in 1882, this death record for Sarah Lee is not my Sarah Doyle.

My guess is that Sarah is in plain view. Waiting to be found. My eyes are just not seeing her yet.


© 2013 Denise Muhammad

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Protecting The Past and Hiding Ancestors

My Grandmother, Margaret w/ her husband Don James and mother Mary B.Doyle (Carr)
In a recent conversation with my my mother, as we sat looking over tons of pictures and talking about family. I was reminded of just how secretive we can be when it comes to our ancestors. Maybe a better word would be "Hoarder". Holding on to information and pictures like our ancestors only belong to us.  Maybe we feel that not sharing is like holding on to a little piece of those who have passed on.

I think it's pretty amazing that from two individuals come a whole nation! If my ancestors as a couple have 10, 15 or 25 children. WE, the descendants of them are ALL forever interlocked by blood. We are family.

I shared with my mother my thoughts on our emotional need, the feeling of not wanting to share. We can't take any of  it with us. What happens to our family tree and our pictures when were gone? doesn't someone have to carry on and continue to tell the story of our ancestors ? Ancestor hunting is big work. I can't imagine that I would find all there is to know about every single ancestor all by myself..although I try. :-)

Families should work together. Imagine how much we could do if we just had unity.

It takes a village.


52 Ancestors, Week 5: in The Census

Mariah Hall Conaway I'm playing catch up with the 52 Ancestors challenge. It's funny how quickly you can get behind. The promp...